‘HAS social media turned us all into stalkers? That’s an interesting question…’ says Penn Badgley. ‘I really don’t know the answer…’
The actor, beloved of all Gossip Girl fans as the show’s sensitive Dan Humphrey, has been thinking about that question a lot of late: his latest drama, You, finds him portraying Joe Goldberg, a stalker who takes it to the next level by using his social-media savvy to inveigle his way into the life of Guinevere, a writer he meets in the bookstore he manages.
The trick is that Badgley gives Joe a beguiling appeal as, thanks to a narrative insight style not a world away from Gossip Girl, he guides us through his very 21st-century ensnaring of his target.
‘There’s no getting away from it, he’s a predator, that’s clear from the first scene,’ says the New York-based actor. ‘But there’s something about him. The way he uses social media to get what he wants gives us a real insight into our world now.
‘What kind of lens are we all pointing at ourselves when we use social media?’
Having achieved fame at a relatively young age — he was 21 when cast as Dan Humphrey in 2007 — Badgley has been wary of the power of social media. ‘I was aware of the pitfalls early on. I knew what it was like to be on the wrong end. So I waited until 2014 before I used it and then it was for a music project I was involved in, called MOTHXR. It was a way of supporting the band.’
By nature a private person, which he acknowledges is tricky, he’s put music on the back-burner for now -‘I’m happy to keep music as something I share, it’s the recognition aspect I’m not comfortable with’ — while acting takes his focus and he digs deep into the bones of Joe. He’s happy to acknowledge that Joe has an affinity with Gossip Girl’s Dan.
‘I was conscious of that and before reading it there was some hesitation,’ he says. ‘But it feels like there’s a progression there, it adds something if you have that connection. It’s almost like a wink to the audience who watched Gossip Girl.’
In a deliciously anti-festive gesture, Netflix is releasing the first season of You on Boxing Day. This tickles Badgley and he warns you might choke on your turkey sarnies if you binge it.
‘It’s really hard to talk about where Joe goes to in this series… he goes to places you can’t come back from. This show bears some pretty dark fruit.’
You is available on Netflix on Boxing Day